There is a noir quality to the exhibit Flashback in the darkened room in the Freedom Tower, one of several shows currently up in the expansive space as part of the Miami Dade College Museum of Art & Design program.
But while the photographs from two veteran Miami Herald photographers —black and white, and set in vintage television sets —make them initially reminiscent of nostalgic ‘40s imagery, they are in fact all snapshots from 1980s Miami. Was that so long ago?
Yes and no. The cocaine cowboy era, the world of Miami Vice, is both ancient history and eerily contemporary, as you find out when looking at the images from long-time Miami Herald photographers Donna Natale Planas and Charles Trainor, Jr., in a show curated by freelance photographer Alexia Fodere.
Framed within television sets large and small, in classic brands such as Sharp and including things like volume control knobs, are images that have become part of Miami lore: Don Johnson getting out of a way-cool car, Mohammed Ali jousting in the ring.
But the majority of the scenes are sadly familiar, depicting cops busting up drug deals and drug houses. In one case, some of the agents with a variety of guns are going through what might be evidence, while the resident of the house is asleep in a chair, next to a television that looks just like the one you are seeing this image in. Pretty powerful.
What also leaves an impression is the knowledge that this was photojournalism at its best, when men and women with cameras caught a time and place because they had the eye for it, and it helped inform us and document our world. Earlier this month, The Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire photography staff of 28, telling its reporters to replace that deficit with iPhone shots. As we can see in Flashback, that’s a terrible decision. Facebook-type photos are not the same as when Trainor focused his camera at the specific time that a police officer used his crowbar to break open a door in a down-trodden apartment, with other officers wielding their guns. He caught the moment and framed it just right so words are not needed to tell the story. That kind of photographic story-telling will be missed.
“Flashback: Miami 1980s” runs through Aug. 10 at the MDC Gallery of Art + Design, Freedom Tower, 600 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; www.mdcmoad.org.